Penn State football: Nittany Lions looking for consistency in punting game

tjohnson@centredaily.comSeptember 17, 2013 

— Alex Butterworth has hit a few solid punts this season and a few that have resulted in favorable field position for Penn State’s opponents.

At his press conference on Tuesday, Bill O’Brien said again that the team’s punting situation must improve. And although the top punters in the country are averaging more than 45 yards per punt, a mark Butterworth has eclipsed just three times so far this season, O’Brien’s faith in Butterworth has not been shaken. Instead, the senior punter just has to have more faith in himself, O’Brien said.

Butterworth is averaging just 39 yards per punt with eight fair catches and three kicks that have pinned opponents inside their own 20-yard line.

“I don’t mean to say that he’s punting poorly. I just think he’s inconsistent,” O’Brien said. “I think we have to get him to be more consistent because he can boom in practice. I’ve seen him do it in a game, 45-yarder, 46-yarder, then he has the 32-yarder. I just need him to be more consistent. That’s what we’re trying to do with him in practice.”

So far, Butterworth has punted 13 times and only four of those have been for more than his average. He hit a 51-yarder against Eastern Michigan but the ball rolled into the end zone for a touchback. He’s also notched punts of 48, 45 and 40 yards so far.

Butterworth averaged 37.4 yards per punt last season.

“I told him yesterday, ‘I think you’re a good punter. Let’s have some confidence going out there and booming the ball,’” O’Brien said. “That’s what we’re talking about doing.”

Linebacker Hull day-to-day

Mike Hull is day-to-day with a right leg injury — the same status as last week when the team monitored Hull’s progress throughout the week in order to determine if he could play on Saturday.

It will likely be the same case with Hull this week. Although Hull was able to play against UCF and made four tackles, he was on a limited snap count and didn’t appear to be near 100 percent.

“Mike Hull wasn’t 100 percent out there,” senior linebacker Glenn Carson said. “My hat goes off to him. He’s a real tough guy and he wanted to get back on the field as soon as he could for the team. ... I think this week is going to be a huge week healing-wise for him and I think that this week he’s going to be a lot more healthy and ready to go.”

Hull was hurt in the season opener at MetLife Stadium when a Syracuse offensive lineman cut blocked him early in the first quarter. Hull went into the locker room and returned with a wrap and brace on his right knee. He returned to the game for a handful of snaps but was largely held out.

Kent State dealing with injuries

The Golden Flashes will likely be without star player Dri Archer when they visit Beaver Stadium for Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. tilt.

Archer, the MAC Special Teams Player of the Year last season who averaged nine yards per carry, is doubtful with an ankle injury, Kent State coach Paul Haynes confirmed.

The Golden Flashes will also be without nose tackle Nate Terhune, who underwent surgery to repair a broken fibula on Sunday. Offensive guard Pat McShane, one of just two returning starters to the Kent State offensive line is probable with an ankle injury while defensive end standout Roosevelt Nix is probable with a back ailment.

Nix is one of the best pass rushers in Kent State history as his 52 career tackles for a loss and 20 1/2 sacks are good for second and fourth all time in program history.

Lewis emerging as go-to return man

On his way home from Beaver Stadium Saturday night, O’Brien flipped on the radio to hear one of Penn State’s best return men in recent memory talking about a current Nittany Lion returner who is beginning to raise eyebrows.

“Listening to the radio coming home, I heard Derrick Williams on this radio show, fantastic player here, great guy, great kick returner,” O’Brien said. “One of the things he said about the kick returner himself is, he said, you can’t stutter step, you have to hit it, make one cut and go. He is exactly right.”

And that’s what Eugene Lewis did when he hauled in a UCF kickoff and raced 44 yards to midfield before UCF’s Josh Reese tripped him up. It was the best return of the season so far for Penn State, which has used Bill Belton, Akeel Lynch and Von Walker deep to field kickoffs.

The Nittany Lions are averaging just over 22 yards per kick return.

“That’s what we have to continue to develop,” O’Brien said. “The guys need to block a little bit better around him. There was a lot of improvement on that. So hopefully that will continue.”

O’Brien not worried about Barnes

While it seems like Deion Barnes has disappeared so far through three games, he’s actually been there making it a chore for opposing tackles who have gone up against him.

The speed-rusher who was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year for his six-sack performance last season is without a sack in his first three games. But it’s not for a lack of trying.

Barnes has been routinely chipped by opposing running backs while being blocked by tackles. His teammates believe the production will come. So does O’Brien.

“I think you have to look at the film closely on that. I think he’s playing with great effort,” O’Brien said. “He’s an excellent player. I believe people are running away from him. I think that people are giving the tackles help in protection with him. I would, too. We’ve got to do things to move him around and help him out a little bit. We will and we have.”

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